Sep 032013

Well, actually two, but I’ll get to the details in a moment. First off you may have noticed a new option in my menu header above that just says “Weapons“. This is because of a little but of advice from a friend about how to make my blog a little bit easier to navigate, especially when it comes to finding my more popular posts. By a country mile these have been when I have taken my years of historical research, and applied them to weapons in RPGs.

So from now on, whenever I put together another article on the subject I will update said page so that anyone looking can find them as easily as possible. What i have also done is take the time to reformat each post and put together a document containing each one, sorted by time period and popped it up on Drivethru RPG. The writing on this document has been tidied up somewhat, and the images better laid out. There is even a few extra little bits that I have come across since I first wrote them out.

This document does have a price tag on it, but I have kept it very low indeed. If you decided to take a shot and pay for it, you not only get a much better looking set of articles but you will only have to pay the once. I promise that each time I come up with a new article I will update the Drivethru document so all you’ll have to do is download the updated file.

Sep 022013

I know, “the Slaughter sword”. It just sounds like something you’d want to use in any game ever doesn’t it? The thing is, you’ve probably encountered it by a different name, as this is just what it was known as to certain English speakers. More commonly it was called a Zweihänder, although it did have many other names. For simplicity’s sake though, we’ll just be calling it a two handed sword. This is actually a very important distinction though, as to be a true two handed sword, it must be designed in such a way as that it must be hefted with both hands. Although there are plenty of swords that can be used with both hands, they can also be swung with just the one, and more often than not would be thought of as “hand-and-a-half”  swords.

two-handed-great-sword-88wgs-full-1I have written in the past about ways to get more use out of a longer sword whilst fighting in confined quarters, but swords of this length would not be useful for such conditions. Before we move on to how one would go about getting the most use out of this kind of sword, lets address what a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to picking up and using it, the weight. I could go on a bit of a metallurgical rant here, but I think that’s better left to the professionals who have devoted more time to the study of such things. In simple terms, what everyone needs to understand is something that most gamers know, but has yet to make its way into the popular consciousness: whilst the Katana is indeed an elegant weapon, it was far from the unique marvel of sword craft that a lot of people seem to think.

In the early medieval period, vikings (Yup, no capitol letter there, a lot of current historical theory is pointing towards viking being a verb rather than a noun. As in, “lets all sharpen our axes and go viking”!) were using a very similar method of steel folding and smelting to create lighter weight but still large swords to take raiding. So even swords made that would be long enough to be considered two handed would not have been overly heavy during the medieval period that most fantasy RPGs seem to be set in. In historical terms. the Zweihänder was actually used more commonly during the renaissance period anyway, when metallurgical techniques had been greatly improved. But since history is often fluid and only used when it is fit for purpose during RPGs, lets not get ourselves too bogged down in that kind of detail.

Taking ceremonial blades out of the equation – which were considerably heavier, but not designed or intended to be swung into the face of a charging barbarian – the most one would be expected to weigh is roughly 7 pounds. I know that that might seem heavy compared to other blades, but it was designed to be used effectively with two hands, offering greater leverage for the swing. And as we all know, in physics, leverage is very important indeed. Swinging the weapon is no problem when held correctly, and the weight it has will make it formidable indeed on the battlefield. Why didn’t we see such a weapon getting greater use then?

Apart from the afore mentioned fact that it wasn’t around so much during the medieval period of great battles, it was mainly because of the cost of such a weapon, and the fact that it never made sense to equip units with it. Most of the other weapons I’ve talked about on this blog have mainly been used to great effect by massed troops. The warbow was wonderful when hundreds of archers loosed volleys into the enemy ranks, the gladius was easy to produce in numbers and very effective when used by close knit ranks of well disciplined troops and so on and so forth. The Zweihänder though was inconvenient to say the least to with fight when you are stood in close formation with your allies.

This actually makes it a great for player characters in RPGs as they would not often worry about maintaining formation when they fought a pack of angry gnolls. It is a weapon for an individual, and the fact that having one made was an expensive and time consuming would make them rare weapons with a whole bunch of mythology all of their own. They are also more versatile then you’d think. The rather excellent cinematic game 7th Sea has a whole lot to say on the fighting styles one could use for a weapon this long, and I advise anyone with an interest to pick up the relevant nation book for more details.

For those without the resources to pick up said books, the three basic stances allow for the wide swing – and historically there is evidence to suggest that such a swing could take out up to three combatants in one go – with the legs apart to keep balance; the bracing stance, holding the weapon almost as a pike to fend off mounted troops or small units of halberdiers. And finally, holding it with the hilt over your shoulder and the point aimed at chest height, using both hands and the leverage to move to weapon at speed to combat against units wielding smaller edged weapons. A lot of Zweihänders even had gripping rings at the cross guard to make it easier to hold it in this fashion and maintain a high degree of maneuverability.

If you are lucky enough to hang out with a few other people also skilled – and rich – enough to wield such a ferocious weapon, you can do some real damage. Just make sure you’re spread out a little first. With three to five people holding a loose formation, swinging the Zweihänder, you can hold off large units of pike men, the swords cutting through the shafts before bringing down those holding the long pole arms. Small units such as these were favoured in battle for useful and versatile they could be, and once more are a great idea for your very own role playing games.

Mar 252013

Fans of the blog, thank you by the way, will know that I like delving into the historical on occasion. It’s fun to do, and allows me the opportunity to take advantage of the three years I spent studying history at university. There aren’t that many other chances I get, to be honest, so I really look forward to writing on the subject whenever the mood takes me. What I usually do is go into a bit more detail on a specific weapon or fighting style, and add a few tips about how to integrate them into a role playing game. If you know the kind of games I like to run and play though, you’ll know that combat is never a huge part of what I like about the hobby. instead I tend to veer more towards social interactions and intrigue. With that in mind, I have for you, some small snippets that could make for a more rounded social environment from periods of history that interest me, starting this week with the Victorians.

Although historically based games tend to take part in alternate history, one that largely does away with prejudice based on gender or race, the fact of the matter is that the Victorians were a very polite bunch of people, and even more so when it came to how women were addressed. This becomes obvious in one simple gesture, and is probably the best for summing up the gentlemanly attitudes towards the fairer sex; if a Lady stands, then no man should sit. This will be used often during meals, with the men getting to their feet if a woman walks into the room, or if a woman stands up to leave. It is a simple little thing, but gets across quite nicely how social convention becomes so ingrained into every day life. I could now go on at length about how obnoxious most men were about women in their modes of address and general feelings, but since most games are set in a world where this is not the case, I instead invite you to do some reading of your own.

This next one might very well be known to any readers who like the BBC TV show Qi as much as I do, but I discovered this one independently, and as such was actually pretty proud of myself for getting a question on that show correct. The best example I know of it, if you want to see it in action is the rather wonderful HBO show Deadwood. A man asks  young child, “How do you do?”, and the boy responds with a slight nod and the same question, but with a slightly different emphasis: “How do you do?”. This might not seem like much, but again highlights just how polite people were that the correct response to someone asking about you is instead to inquire as to their situation. It is a question that will be asked repeatedly in a character’s life, and knowing the basics just adds a layer of immersion that feels very satisfying.

This of course is the standard response, but it leads quite nicely to the basic concept of respecting one’s elders. I know this is seen as a bit hokey these days, but I like it – and not just because I’m getting on a bit myself – and it was very important to the Victorians. If one was perambulating along the pavement and someone your senior was also making use of the walkway, then it was a given that you would move to the right and allow them to pass. (As an aside, how much better would it be if we all just agreed to move to the right when two people were walking towards each other, instead of all that bimbling back and forth?) Although this was also expected from people of lower social classes if their ‘betters’ were walking towards them, age was to be universally respected.

I could go on at length here, but would rather suggest a few things that one should be very careful to avoid doing while out and about. if you are the guest in someone’s house, then they deserve the utmost respect, as does the house itself. What with a lack of electronic communication in the Victorian era, a lot of social interactions take place in person, and quite often at the domicile of one person involved in the conversation. There’s a whole list of things you should know about how a calling card is delivered, but space here is limited. When you do end up round at someone else’s place of residence, all due care should be made to avoid offending your gracious host.

So be careful to not touch or alter anything in the house; this includes touching and moving ornaments in the sitting room, opening or touching a piano if it is already open, or opening the curtains in the sitting room. Importantly, one should never stride around an empty room if you are waiting for the person you are calling on to enter it. Instead, stand respectably near the middle of the room, or near the fireplace. If someone has taken the time to visit you, then you must at all times give them your attention. This is another that strikes home I think, as visiting a friend who spends half his time on a smart phone is more than slightly annoying.

One final point, as I know my word count could sky-rocket on this subject. If you are inviting someone to attend you at any entertainment, then the written invitation should be composed in the third person. A strange one, but taking the time to compose such a letter should be time well spent, and creates an artificial distance between the two persons, and since the social mores of the time were tightly focused on keeping a distance between unmarried men and women, I can see the point.

I hope that some of that was useful for you, and I think I’ll take a shot at some medieval etiquette next. It was more than just the code of chivalry you know.

Feb 202013

I left you yesterday with possibly more information than you’d ever need about me, and I plan on piling a lot more on you today, along with another announcement about some more writing I’m doing. So far you know that I’m a massive role player, but that I also have a lot of other geek level interests too. This is the story how one of them changed my life, and with the help of a second meant I got to write a very interesting dissertation.

The story starts with me leaving school and deciding to move away from scholarly pursuits; I’m not too sure why, but looking back it was just a decision made because I had no bloody idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I am now a fully qualified mechanical/production engineer. I did not enjoy that job, and since then have mainly been working in retail, including some time spent as comic book store manager. About five years ago I was thinking about what the hell I should actually do with my life and after a wee bit of soul searching I left my full time “reasonably” well paid job as a bookseller in an international chain and decided to go to university to study history.

I had been reading history books for fun and inspiration for my gaming at the time, and realised that I could do something with this passion for the past. About a year into my studies the financial world went to hell in a hand cart, and I was stuck studying for a humanities degree with very little real world application. I stuck with it though, and I now have a degree in History and Heritage. Regular readers will no doubt be aware that I use this knowledge as often as I can, just so it didn’t go to waste.

In my final year, I took on two final year projects; the first being a heritage assignment in setting up a permanent exhibit at a local art gallery. The second being a study into how extreme metal bands integrate their history and heritage into their music, and the effects that can have. These covered such things as the early nineties Scandinavian church burnings, but also Taiwanese metal band Chthonic and how they use their music to talk about a heritage that is getting rewritten by the Chinese.

Since graduating, I’ve been struggling to find a full time job, and as such I’ve had a fair bit of spare time on my hands. And this last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to use that spare time to talk about extreme metal. A friend who runs an online metal-zine knew I had started writing and asked if I would be interested in doing some reviews. After a bit of time to think – more on that tomorrow – I agreed, and my first review has gone live. Due to the nature of the website, I can’t send you a direct link, but the Denouncement Pyre review under the ‘CD reviews’ banner is all me!

I will hopefully be able to send off one review a week from now on, and it will usually be ‘black metal’ bands that I’ll be taking a look at. So if that’s your cup of tea, you should bookmark the site, or add it on Facebook to keep up to date on reviews and other announcements.

Stay tuned for more Shortymonster news tomorrow, when we discover just how bloody lazy I can actually be…

Jan 292013

Although the Roman period is very well documented indeed, especially the activities of its soldiers and armies, there is still a lot we don’t know, or at least, cannot be sure of. For these things, we have to thank a particular breed of historical re-enactors who would be better labelled as ‘living archaeologists’. They look at the things that would be available during the time period, and what we do know from primary source documents, and use the objects to find out how they would be used. It is because of Roman military enthusiasts that we can guess so accurately the things we can never know about the time period because of unfortunate gaps in the historical records. So, if you’re reading bits of this and questioning whether it was ever mentioned in a primary source document, all I can tell you is that people with more knowledge and resources than myself say it’s the best guess they can make.


The sword that was used almost exclusively during the the time of the Roman Empire – by Romans at least – was the Gladius. After spending a lot of time looking at ancient and medieval weapons in various museums I think I would rank it as one of my favourite swords. True, the hand and half sword of the Holy Roman Empire has its charm, but for pure elegant simplicity of design, you can’t do much worse than the gladius.

It needed to be simple to make it in huge quantities as it would be given to every member of every legion. When they were performing combat drills they used wooden versions of this sword with a lead weight core to simulate the feel of actually wielding it, without as much danger of real lasting physical damage. Along with the armour, shield and javelins, it was an essential bit of kit, and not having it about you at all times while serving was unheard of.

Before we get into how it was used, this articles subtitle should probably get explained. I love the idea of larping (Live Action Role Playing), and if money was no object, I’d be more than to happy to join in. What would make it such a bother for me though, is that I’m such a fan of the Roman style of sword play, and that style is decidedly dangerous with LARP safe weapons. They are usually carbon cored, and wrapped in molded latex, painted and sealed. They are great for slashing and hacking, but you are really not supposed to stab with them. The latex is strong, but too much pressure and the core will push out the end of it and could do some actual damage to your opponent. And stabbing was what a gladius did best…

It was a short blade with a wicked point, designed to enter flesh as easily as it could.

Click image for source

Click image for source

When we look at the formations that the legions would fight in, there was little room indeed to swing a blade, even one as short as this. In close formation, with large shields locked (more on shields to follow, but the way they were used by the legions was just as unsafe for LARP) the enemy tiring itself out attempting to batter its way through, a sudden, strong underarm stab to the stomach or armpit was very effective. Not just that, but it was also efficient. It required a lot less energy to cut into flesh this way than with a slash. All of the strength is focused down the length of the blade, instead of across it, and this means no energy wasted, and the point has less area, meaning less force required to break the skin.

A stabbing blow – if administered correctly – had an extra hint of lethality to it as well. Opening the wound is one thing, but twisting before pulling out means it will bleed a lot more, do considerably more damage to any internal organs struck by it, and – if the victim survives the blow – makes it considerably harder to treat afterwards. All good stuff, but as you can imagine, not so useful with a foam weapon.

In pen and paper RPGs though, you should all be taking advantage of this. Not every system takes into account special combat moves such as these, but take the time to explain to your GM what you’re doing, and why, and I’m sure that they’ll cave and allow you to do the damage that one would expect. Don’t push it though, this isn’t about playing the system, just having fun. It’s only a little personal gripe of mine that short/small swords seem to get a bum rap in the damage tables.

It is of course worth bearing in mind that it’s rare for player characters to fight in close, well drilled formations, such as one would find in the legions. That’s fine, as stabbing is still stabbing, no matter when or where you do it. I would still advise using a shield, but unless you have at least a line to join, go for something a bit smaller than a tower shield to maintain mobility. Since you’re not in formation, you can also swing the gladius too.

Although it lacks the weight of broadswords and other such weapons, and suffers quite a bit for lack of reach, swinging can still be somewhat effective. I would say that if you get the chance, stick to the stab attack, but if you’re going to swing, don’t even think about doing it the same as you would with a larger sword. Getting close enough for it to be effective is far too risky, and you won’t do anywhere near as much damage. Instead, just keep reminding yourself that end two inches of your sword are the most dangerous, and use this to rake across your enemies. True, you’ll lack the bone breaking, internal organ crushing of Dave the Barbarian and his broadsword, but you should still be able to open a significant wound, and have little problem getting past soft armour. Just keep the point well honed.

I hope that some of that was of use to my readers, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences below, and check back regularly for the follow up article on Roman shield techniques.

Dec 032012

Welcome to this, my latest look at historical weapons that make their way into fantasy games. I’m going to say right from the get go, that most of the time I think this particular weapon is portrayed reasonably accurately in the games I’ve seen them in, but there are way more to them than most people realise. Usually they are seen as reasonably easy to use weapons that don’t do a ton of damage and don’t have a minimum strength requirement. This absolutely fine for a very basic crossbow, but that is far from what you can do with this amazing bit of kit.

Take a look at the image to the left there, and you should notice a couple of things which aren’t always obvious in more fantasy themed depictions of the weapon. First, there’s the stirrup at the dangerous end. This was an almost universal component on crossbows, and was used every time the weapon was cocked. It would be placed point down, and the user would put his foot through the stirrup, and then use his entire body’s strength to draw the string back until it locks over the trigger mechanism. It would be near impossible for a regular archer to put this much strength behind each draw of a long bow, and gave the crossbow a rather impressive range.

This was not quick to accomplish though, and as such makes it unusual to see them on an open battlefield. Check out an earlier post to find out what happens when a bunch of Genoese crossbowmen were sent out to fight against British archers without shields to duck behind when cocking their weapons. It is reasons such as this that the weapon was favoured by those inside a castle under siege. With two men cocking and loading, and a third to shoot through the narrow slits in a castle’s outer walls, you could continuously rain bolts down onto the besieging army without ever being in danger of their arrows.

The other noticeable difference in the image above is the winch. This was to be found on weapons with an even larger draw strength. The crossbow was held in much the same way, a foot in the stirrup, but the strength needed to draw it was so great that a winch would need to be used. This made the weapon very popular, as you would not necessarily need to have a strong army to use it. Even young boys, old men, and injured soldiers could wind the winch. The power that such a crossbow looses its bolt with is staggering. Even using the entire body, as mentioned above, would not do as much damage. It’s worth mentioning at this point that games systems that have an accurate amount of damage listed for a crossbow cocked this way are few and far between. One shot from one of these things would almost certainly kill you.

Cock it with a winch, and we get to a whole new level of damage. To fully appreciate it, I would like to draw your attention to a rather wonderful French film called The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Sadly I have been unable to find a video clip of this scene, but the entire thing is worth picking up if you see it anywhere. The scene involves three protagonists preparing for a big show down, using flintlock pistols and throwing axes and what-have-you. Well, two of them are. The third, a young French Noble is quietly winding a winch throughout the scene, as he watches his friends destroy pumpkins arranged on spikes for target practice. When he’s finally ready – and it does take a while – he knocks a bolt, aims and fires. The pumpkin is obliterated, and a marble statue behind it explodes into sharp fragments. Now, I know this is a film, and not to be taken too seriously, but bear that amount of damage in mind when you think about what a crossbow can do in your next game.

I was seriously contemplating giving up a separate article to repeater crossbows, but in the end decided that would be a bit of a waste, as I would just end up going into unnecessary details. The short story is this; repeater crossbows are weak sauce. By necessity, the mechanism that draws back the string is small, simple and light. This means that it just does not have the power to fire a bolt with anything like the strength of a hand-drawn weapon. True, there are huge mechanical devices that break this rule, but siege engines are a topic for another time. No, handheld repeaters are not your friend unless you have few other options. To put it in a bit of context, if a standard – hand cocked – crossbow would do d6 damage, then something that requires the whole of the users upper-body strength to cock would likely do d8-10, with a winch powered weapon doing at least d12: a repeater would be lucky to manage d4.

As always I hope that some of the above was useful to my readers, but feel free to weigh in below with thoughts of your own.

Nov 052012

I’ve touched on Warbows and Murder Strikes so far, but this week, we’re going to take a look at something a bit more advanced; gunpowder weapons firing balls of lead. Although these are a lot less prevalent in fantasy RPGs, I do know they exist, as well as in Pirate themed action and adventure games. Feel free to take as much or as little of this advice to apply to your own games, as some of it may be a little too real, and could take away from the fun of it all.

Because these weapons are far from common, and most fantasy games prefer to stick closer to a late medieval time frame, if they do show up, most people don’t actually know too much about them. Lets start with some basics then. Loading the weapon – and for this I am assuming that the barrel has not been rifled - takes a professional soldier whom has been drilled extensively, roughly twenty seconds. Feel free to work out how many combat rounds that is, and then decide you probably don’t care that much for realism in this subject. I don’t blame you, but if you are going to shorten that time, don’t make it too silly. Allow for well trained characters to take feats or advantages to reduce this some. Just remember, what the character is doing is dangerous, and rushing leads to mistakes, which could lead to severe trauma and death.

The reason for this is that you will setting off a small explosion in a narrow space very close indeed to your face. Even when it works fine, expect to have a soot blackened face, with pock marked scars from the black powder in the priming pan. Also, be very careful with the ramrod: grip it with finger tips and not a fist. If you get an accidental ignition, life’s easier with shorter fingers than no hand.

Once loaded, the gun is usually fired immediately. This is because the ball will not be lodged firmly in the barrel, and holding the gun pointed vaguely downwards could allow it to roll out. Even too much jostling before firing will dislodge the shot and mean that it will not receive the full force of the explosion, exiting the barrel at sub-optimal velocity. There are ways round this, but they are not risk free. You could force a lump of drying mud or clay down the barrel to hold the shot and powder in place. If it’s too dry, it will have little effect, coming loose just as easily; too wet and you run the risk of getting the powder damp and causing a misfire and a blockage. This will destroy the weapon, and do considerable damage to its wielder.

When fired, an Indian Long Pattern musket or pistol was horrifically inaccurate. At the battle of Waterloo alone, based on rounds fired, less than 5% hit their target. The pistols were only accurate at incredibly short ranges: typical duels at twenty paces were called off with honour satisfied if three rounds were fired by each participant and none hit. This happened more than you would think. In battle, the muskets were only effective in volley fire, and even then, only at close range. Holding fire “’til you see the whites of their eyes” was very good advice, as firing early was a great way to waste powder and shot. the reason for this was the shot was a lot smaller than the barrel, and when fired would have plenty of room to rattle along inside it before coming out in the vague direction it was pointed.

The way around this was to rifle the barrel. You know that great of James Bond as seen down the barrel of a gun, that looks like a camera? The lines you see are the rifling. This is done to put a spin on the round, making it travel in a straighter line through the air. To be truly effective however, the round needs to fit the barrel much tighter. Before advances in weapon design and the invention of cartridge shots, the way to do this was to wrap the ball in leather. The grooves would grip the material, spinning the round as it left the barrel, drastically increasing accuracy and allowing for sharp shooters.

If you plan on playing a character who uses a black powder weapon, I would strongly suggest you find a rifle rather than a musket. It makes you significantly more effective without forcing you to join in the volley fire. In realistic terms, the disadvantage of this was a longer reload time, as the shot would have to be forced down the barrel because of the firmer fit. For the sake of fun, this can easily be ignored though. Since these weapons would be hand made, the basic weapon would certainly be a musket, and a rifle would be a master-crafted affair.

If you’re the GM it might also be an idea to assume that your player characters armed with firearms know how to maintain them. Keeping track of how often they strip the weapon to clear powder from the touch holes, how regularly the change the flint to ensure a spark, and how clean they keep the grooves of the burning leather that sticks inside them.

One final note now, on bayonets. They are usually socket mounted, meaning they can be taken on and off in a few seconds by someone with experience, and act similar to spears in close combat. Their added benefit is that they can be wielded as knives, with the longer bayonets used on rifles closer in length to a short sword. If you have an entire unit equipped with these weapons, they could all fix bayonet and form square, holding them pointed outwards like a very pointy wall. Although effectively stalling them, and making it harder to load and fire, no horse, no matter how experienced its rider, will willingly charge at the square.

I hope some of the above was useful to you, and please remember that all of the above is optional, and if you would rather ignore it, I take no offense at all. I’m just happy to get any chance to use my History degree…

Sep 242012

There has been talk on a few of the blogs I follow – and even in a forum thread or two - about the feasibility of using anything like a long sword in a dungeon environment. There are ways to make a hand-and-a-half sword, or even a two handed sword, still a viable weapon for a fight in an enclosed space. This week we are talking about the Murder Strike.

The image above shows this move in action. As you can see, the sword is pretty long, but held half way down the blade, so that the arc needed to swing is reduced. Now, some of you out there may be wondering why there’s any point swinging the sword in such a way, instead of using the blade. To answer this, first we need to understand how a medieval war-hammer actually works. If you’re thinking Mjölnir, you’re a little bit out. No, the war 

hammer that would be used by footmen against knights in armour is a little bit more like this–>. Note the sharpened back end of the weapon. Now, I have been lucky enough to see what such a weapon, correctly forged, can do to a steel chest plate. Trust me on this, the two large holes where the spike punched several inches through the metal to where the ribs would be were very worrying indeed. 

The cross guards on medieval long swords – the bits that stopped an attacking blade sliding down your own and slicing your fingers off – were often molded into points. This was not purely for decorative purposes, as you can imagine when performing the murder strike. This would be performed as a two handed strike, so imagine the force with which the cross guard would hit the armour of your opponent. Even if you were unlucky, and didn’t get the clean hit needed to punch a large hole in the metal, and the flesh beneath, you would still have a chance to knock them back, maybe even off their feet.

If you scroll back up to the top image, you will notice that not only is the man performing the murder strike gripping his sword blade with open hands, but the poor chap on the receiving end is also grasping his blade when defending. This is another interesting aspect of medieval sword fighting. The blades, although when swung with enough force could do massive damage were rarely, if ever, honed to razor sharpness. There were at least two reasons for this, the first being that it was unnecessary. The amount of pressure over a surface required to cut flesh was easily taken care off without needing an razor edged blade when a sword was swung with enough force. It was also a waste to try and keep the blade that sharp, as after a few swings at another blade, or maybe the armour of your opponent, the edge would quickly dull.

This does give you edge in a close quarters fight with limited room to swing or use a shield, as it allows the defender to hold the blade firmly to parry and block blows with much greater ease than if the sword was held in one hand. If the user is proficient enough, this defensive stance an also allow a quick and deadly riposte. Don’t forget that the Romans perfected a method of sword fighting that used the point of the sword to great effect. When using a long sword in a closed space, use your off hand to hold the blade as you would when using to block, and if you turn aside a blow, drive the point of your sword forward, the accuracy you gain from holding the blade in both hands means a high chance of hitting a gap in your opponent’s armour with a good deal of force.

I hope some of the above has been useful for you all, and if you have any tips of your own, please share below.

Aug 202012

Last week I did a bit of writing on how one can improve the scare factor when running a horror game, and thought I would continue the train of thought a bit further in that direction by looking at a great place to take your players if you want them to fear for their lives; an abandoned mine. For this to be effective, you game world first has to include a society that would mine, and for sake of ease all the information presented here will be based on real world post-mechanisation mining, as this is something I know a little bit about after interning one summer at the English National Coal-mining Museum.

There are hazards by the bucket load once you start working underground, even more so when you’re hundreds of feet below the surface. So many in fact, that I doubt I will even have to touch on some of the supernatural shenanigans that had my players stiff with fright last time I took them down a mine. A huge threat to consider, since it’s a slow creeping death, is oxygen supply. That far underground, there’s nothing producing oxygen (we’ll get to the other gases in a bit), so the characters will need to carry their own – in back pack respirators – or make absolutely certain that the ventilation in the mine is working. Although the GM can ask for an easy repair roll to get the fans turning, the fun comes with all the doors that need to be the correct combination of open and closed to keep the air going where the adventurers need to be. This can be a great little puzzle, and if they get it wrong, the first time they’ll notice their mistake is when they start getting light headed, far away from the daylight. There may be a point when you decide to knock realism on the head here; it would be almost impossible to change the doors from inside the mine, and totally impossible to move them by hand. Vacuums are created when dealing with the air pressure necessary to keep fresh air pumping that far and that deep, and if a player gets caught between a door that wants to close and the door’s frame (due to another door getting destroyed for instance) they will be crushed to death or have limbs severed in seconds. Fun, huh?

As mentioned, there’s plenty of other gases down there. Stuff that could lead to suffocation or massive fireballs of death. I’ve found it’s best to be fair to your players when it comes to this, as just walking down the wrong passage could be death in a matter in a seconds from suffocation. Be fair, but don’t feel the need to go too easy on them. If they’re going down a mine, they should be warning signs everywhere about the gases they could encounter, so if they choose not to take precautions, that’s their own problem. What they should expect to find are Davy Lamps. These are handy bits of kit that contain a small flame that can be watched to show differences in oxygen levels or the presence of fire damp etc., that they will want to keep a very close eye on. There are more high tech ways of doing this these days, but we are talking very recent inventions, and they’re far from quick to learn to use, or to use when you’re down a mine. Best left in the hands of professionals really.

Now that the characters are down there, and breathing safely; they’re still far from safe. As mentioned, flammable gas is a big risk. Nothing that could cause a spark was allowed down into a mine at the pit head. The miners were very careful about this indeed, but would your players be? If they have guns, then letting them off just once could be the death of them. A horribly painful, drawn out death. Firearms aren’t the only source of sparks though, so keep a close eye on the characters, and watch what they’ve brought down below. And don’t feel like you have to TPK for one slip up; if the group are spread in a line, only one needs to feel the full lick of flame, and even that doesn’t need to be fatal. One would think that it happening once would be enough to make sure that they’re considerably more careful in future. This next bit probably goes without saying, but fire needs oxygen to burn, and since that’s already a problem in a mine, just imagine what could happen if a lot of it gets quickly burnt away?

Fire brings us neatly onto another huge problem; collapse. Even in modern mines with pneumatic roof supports, the sheer amount of rock being moved can bring down miles of tunnels in one collapse. In an abandoned mine, the risk is even greater, as the supports will have been left without any maintenance for as long at the mine has been left empty. The older the mine, the more likely that it’ll come down when disturbed, and this can be all kinds of fun and terror. Once again, don’t kill the lot of them – unless you’re bored – but have them stuck behind the rubble. This becomes an interesting survival situation as air, water, and food all become very important. Don’t get too worried about the Chilean miners and having the players down there for months; there should always be a secondary draft that will allow the characters to get out. This will mean walking the entire way back up on a one third incline, once they’ve found a way to it of course.

Now, I also had some fun with ghosts when I subjected my players to a Victorian era mine, so feel free to add in anything you like to these little snippets, and if you want to get an idea of just what it’s like down there, find a mining museum that offers underground tours, and wait for the bit when they tell everyone to turn their lights off…

Aug 172012

I know that a lot of the people who read this blog will be doing those things, and if at GenCon won’t really have the time to digest anything huge at the moment blog-wise. The people who aren’t there at the moment though, who may not be too fussed about D&D next themselves (I know I’m not the only one; I tried to get a play test group together out of my local gaming society, and had only two volunteers out of a possible 25 players) might be in the mood for something that has nothing to do with either. Presented for you then is inspiration. Inspiration in the form of an article I came across on the BBC news site a couple of days ago that had my mind going into overdrive, thinking about what I could do with this information. So I present for you here, China’s ghost towns and phantom malls.

I hope that like me, it gives you some inspiration, and if it does, feel free to sound off below and share them with anyone else not lucky enough to be at GenCon.